Language:           This lecture will be held in English

Venue:                 Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, Lange St. Agnietenstraat 10, Leiden

Schedule:           16.00-17.00

Entrance:            Special Guest Card, entrance ticket, friend of the museum



Together with Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, the Lorentz Center organizes the public lecture ‘Giants, Fossils, and the Origins of Nationalism’ by Anita Guerrini.


Fossils of Giants?

Imagine you are the first person who digs up a fossil of a dinosaur. You probably think what in heavens name would this bone have belonged to? How did people who actually found the first fossils interpret their findings? In her lecture Anita Guerrini takes the audience through this experience and the fantastic stories the fossils gave rise to.


In antiquity, fossil bones were thought to be the remains of gods and mythological creatures. Like the mosasaur of Maastricht, fossil bones could become national symbols. However in early modern times the interpretation of fossils went beyond symbolism, and these remains were used to rewrite national histories. In France for instance, the supposed remains of the Gaulish king Teutobochus, found in 1613, confirmed that Gauls rather than Franks were the true Frenchmen.


Across Europe, fossil bones were compared with human bones. They looked like human arm and leg bones, but they were two to five times bigger. The historical narratives built around these bones told the stories of superhuman giants, origins for a favored nation, but also a belief in human decline.


In her talk Anita Guerrini will not only show how modern historians and archaeologists have determined these bones to be the remains of mammoths, mastodons, and other extinct animals. But she will also shed a light on early modern antiquarians and natural philosophers, each claiming specific expertise, struggling to interpret the fossils within the shifting boundaries of early modern knowledge. In the eighteenth century, these debates crossed over into new explorations of time and extinction, once more rewriting natural and human history.



Anita Guerrini is Horning Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History at Oregon State University. Her most recent book is The Courtiers’ Anatomists: Animals and Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris (University of Chicago Press, 2015), which won the 2018 Pfizer Prize of the History of Science Society for best scholarly book. Her new book project looks at giants, fossils, and nationalism in early modern Europe.

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is the Dutch National Museum for the History of Science and Medicine. Its aim is to improve the societal support base for science in the Netherlands. Rijksmuseum Boerhaave always seeks to connect its activities with current events  (


The Lorentz Center

The Lorentz Center is a Dutch workshop center, located at Leiden University. It organizes international scientific workshops in all disciplines, to promote innovative research at the scientific frontiers as well as on complex societal challenges. (